Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most important figures in 20th century. His principles of non-violence and civil disobedience won hearts all over the globe that had seen two world wars within a span of just half a century. Simple life of this loin-clothed man from India gave out a message to the world that nature can satiate hunger but not greed. His frame was thin and frail but he was one of the most powerful person during that time.
It was Margaret Bourke-White who took the iconic photograph that we are talking about today. Margaret was the first female photographer hired by the Life magazine and in 1946 she was sent to India for covering the impending Indian Independence. During this period she approached Gandhi’s staff and asked for the permission of taking a photograph of Gandhi at his spinning wheel. Secretaries of Gandhi did not grant the permission and informed her that if she wanted to take a picture of Gandhi at spinning wheel then she also must learn to spin the wheel! Margaret did not want to miss the opportunity and she learned to spin the wheel.
Secretaries, however, presented her with even more conditions. On the day of taking the photograph, Gandhi was not spoken to because it was his day of silence. Gandhi did not like bright light so Margaret was not to use strong illumination while taking photograph. She accepted all the conditions and prepared to take photos. She had to face all sorts of technical snags (like fused flash bulbs, forgetting to insert the plate etc.) but finally she managed to take this brilliant photograph after three failed attempts. When Bourke-White sent this photo from India to New York, she also sent the following note:
[Gandhi] spins every day for 1 hr. beginning usually at 4. All members of his ashram must spin. He and his followers encourage everyone to spin. Even M. B-W was encouraged to lay [aside] her camera to spin. . . . When I remarked that both photography and spinning were handicrafts, they told me seriously, “The greater of the 2 is spinning.” Spinning is raised to the heights almost of a religion with Gandhi and his followers. The spinning wheel is sort of an Ikon to them. Spinning is a cure all, and is spoken of in terms of the highest poetry.
Incidentally, Margaret had again photographed and interviewed Gandhi just a few hours before his assassination on 30 January 1948.
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